Le Collectionneur [The Collector] (2002)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Le Collectionneur</strong> [<strong class="MovieTitle">The Collector</strong>] (2002)

(In French, In theaters, March 2002) French-Canadian cinema has, in the past ten years, adopted many marketing tactics from Hollywood, and here comes yet another one; the bestseller adaptation. Given the success of Chrystine Brouillet’s mystery series starring inspector Maud “Biscuit” Graham, its cinema incarnation was inevitable. The result is not bad, though it feels heavily derivative of everything else in the American serial-killer tradition, perhaps unjustly; is it possible to read a profiler story nowadays without thinking about Silence of the Lambs? From a technical standpoint, there isn’t much to complain about in Le Collectionneur; the direction is efficient, the overall level of quality is comparable or even higher than most low-budget crime thrillers. The script, on the other hand, is a mixed bag; levels of language vary widely, often even in the same scene with the same characters. The “edgy” child-prostitute sidekick feels gratuitous and annoying. Even the acting had occasional bad moment; Maude Guerin is often flat as the heroine, usually-dependable regulars like Yvan Ponton and Yves Corbeil are unnoticeable and the child actors are only a notch above annoying. Luc Picard mails in his performance as the psycho; it’s a good one, but it’s not up to his usual intensity levels. Still, the film has a definitely local atmosphere, and isn’t bad at all when seen as a whole.

Charlotte Gray (2001)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Charlotte Gray</strong> (2001)

(In theaters, March 2002) Whenever you get tired of loud action-packed WW2 dramas, why not go for quiet drama-packed WW2 dramas? Charlotte Gray takes a different approach to a common historical subject, almost a feminine/romantic angle as compared to the usual masculine/action focus. The incomparable Cate Blanchett plays the titular heroine, a young Scottish woman send deep behind the lines of Vichy France to liaise between the French Resistance and the English Secret Service. What follows is a long, sometimes dull, drama involving collaborators, resistance, Jewish children and Gray herself. While not overly absorbing, it’s a nice change of pace from the usual war film, and it manages to build up to a credible climax. Some threads -probably inherited from the source novel- are a bit superfluous and should have been strengthened or cut entirely. The acting is fine, though purists like your reviewer would have liked it best that the characters would have spoken the appropriate languages. (Here, like in Chocolat, everyone speaks British English, except for the rustic French, who speak English with a French accent… sigh…)

Blade II (2002)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Blade II</strong> (2002)

(In theaters, March 2002) Once in a while, the mid-twenties male movie geek that I am finds a reason to fall in love with cinema all over again. Strangely enough, truly great films don’t do this as often as flawed B-movies that I happen to really enjoy. Sure, okay, Traffic is a good film, but it doesn’t inspire me to the same level of devotion as the wonderfully quirky Dude, Where’s My Car?. Blade II is one of those films about which I can rave for hours, simply on the basis that it’s one of those all-too rare horror/action film that really push the gore/action quotient to insane levels. It’s furiously paced, it stars a highly charismatic hero (Wesley Snipes, better than ever), it doesn’t skimp on the special effects and gives you a geek-worthy movie experience. Blade II improves on most of the strengths of the original; more action, more vampires and more coolness. (One notable exception is the scant development of the vampire-world mythology, which revert from the original’s “council of vampires” to a more hum-drum “vampire monarchy”) The action sequences are directed with impressive skill and fluidity, though some blurry shots betray an imperfect integration of CGI and live-action elements. For director Guillermo del Toro, this is a triumphant return to mid-budget American films after the tepid Mimic. Perhaps the best things about Blade II is how much it pushes the limits of its MPAA-approved rating, ending up as one of the hardest-R movies in recent memory. Hence my unconditional love for the film, vampire-slayings and tense action sequences aside; if middle-aged ladies can have their sensitive Bridges Of Madison County and pre-schoolers can have their safe Thomas The Magic Train, then why can’t I get my Blade II? Thank you, Snipes and del Toro; once again, cinema has something to offer me.

(Second viewing, On DVD, January 2003) Adrenaline junkies should take note that there aren’t many better choices than this one as far as sheer action coolness is concerned. This film doesn’t try to do any anything but bring a kickin’ action comic book to life, and boy does it succeeds like few others. Blade II is packed with cool scenes, loud music and plenty of macho posturing. It’s almost perfect for what it wants to be. The DVD is enough to make any geek fall in love with the film again, as the 2-disc edition is dominated by the imposing presence of director Guillermo del Toro. His candid co-commentary (along with producer Peter Frankfurt) is reason enough to buy the DVD; profane, honest (he regularly points out flaws in the finished film, and is even less merciful with the original script he had to shape up for the screen), quick with an amazing array of classic comic/anime/film references and devastatingly funny, del Toro proves to be the best man for the job and a talent to watch. In comparison, the second commentary (featuring writer David S. Goyer and Wesley Snipes) is a bit too smug and scattered. If you like action movies, this is it; the slam-bang jewel of 2002.

Ali (2001)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Ali</strong> (2001)

(In theaters, March 2002) I can recognize that Michael Mann is a great director, but goodness—please give him some espresso so that his films move more quickly. It’s not enough to spend the first twenty minutes of the film on a single fight, but we have to spend another five minutes later on jogging through the capital of Zaire and interminable moments on trivial details of Muhammad Ali’s life. It’s not only slow; it’s wasteful! Ali doesn’t add up, despite the best efforts of everyone involved, to a very good biography of its title subject; Seeing the documentary When We Were Kings immediately after this film gives an idea of the real significance of Ali, and how Mann’s Ali completely misses the target with a plodding, anecdotic narrative. Will Smith only looks like the younger Ali (not the older one of the “Rumble in the Jungle”) but whenever he talks, his voice inflexions are undistinguishable from the real Ali. It’s a courageous film (the political dimension of Muhammad Ali is never too far away) but ultimately a flawed one that ultimately squanders precious talent on a script that doesn’t give us a true measure of the man. Too bad!

For the Defense, William Harrington

Pinnacle, 1988, 508 pages, C$5.95 mmpb, ISBN 1-55817-303-X

Let us be brutally frank: Pinnacle Fiction has never been known as an editor of fine literature. As far as publishers go, it’s definitely a second-tier house, known nationally but not with the name-recognition of Bantam, Pocket or the other big-names. At least it’s a real publisher and not a vanity press. Still, you’d be hard-pressed to recall at least one author published by them.

Even as an avid reader, my database lists only three of their titles, all very average genre fiction book. For the Defense is a surprising little exception to the norm, an enjoyable piece of legal fiction as gripping and amusing as anything I’ve read in the genre lately.

It has the good fortune of starring a bigger-than-life heroine. As the novel begins, Cosima Bernardin is a young lawyer in a high-powered New York legal firm. She’s got everything lined up to succeed. In the first chapter, though, she’s asked to cede control of her most visible client -a rock group- to her senior partners. She not only refuses, but quits and decides to establish her own law firm in direct competition with her old colleagues. A few plucky lawyers join her fight, and For the Defense is the story of that David-versus-Goliath fight.

Everyone is sucker for such a story, but For the Defense wouldn’t be half the novel it is if it wasn’t for the gallery of fun characters introduced in its pages. Even weeks after reading the book, some of the minor characters resonate more strongly than the protagonists of other novels read subsequently. Cosima herself is a wonderful heroine; a female protagonist with a good control on her destiny, unbounded ambition and considerable skills.

She’s surrounded by rock stars, a ballerina, a frightfully powerful father, a senator sister, actors and actresses as well as other lawyers. There’s a lot of casual sex in this novel; Cosima herself sleeps around with a few men during the course of the novel, but to Harrington’s credit this never seems like an exploitative technique. (You know, like those so-called “feminist” male authors who just really like to play around with a wish-fulfilling promiscuous heroine.)

Harrington’s writing is crisp, clean and compulsively readable. Cosima’s legal cases overlap and compete for her attention, but our own attention remains rigidly focused on what she’s doing. I was particularly impressed by For the Defense‘s ability to juggle multiple storyline, some of them impacting other, and some of them remaining stubbornly separate.

I was also impressed by the versimilitude of the legal manoeuvring in the novel. From the author’s note (“I have the privilege of being a member of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York.”), we can assume that Harrington is a professional of the field, and his experience in such matters really shine through, as is his talent to vulgarize complex notions.

Most of all, even though this is “merely” trashy genre fun, there is a definite pleasure in reading such novels from time to time; protagonists all get what they deserve, and that goes for antagonists too. For the Defense‘s universe is a richly moral one, and a contemporarily moral one too. Casual sex is acceptable, but sexism definitely isn’t!

A compelling heroine, memorable characters, a boffo against-all-odds premise, convincing background details, clear writing… is there anything else we’d want from a genre novel? I don’t think so, and that’s why I recommend For the Defense if ever you can find it.